The Chicago Bears could still stand to add a veteran or two to their 90-man roster before training camp begins in late July, but don’t count on one of their targets being recently released star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
The Arizona Cardinals officially released Hopkins from their roster on May 26 after they were unable to find a trade partner for him and his near-$31 million cap hit. Now, the three-time All-Pro wide receiver is a free agent for the first time in his career and will likely draw quite a bit of attention from Super Bowl contenders on the market.
Based on Hopkins’ stated interests and the Bears’ approach to the 2023 offseason, though, it is highly unlikely that he will end up taking his talents to Chicago.
For starters, Hopkins appeared on the ‘I Am Athlete’ podcast on the Monday before his release and revealed he is looking for his next team to have “stable management,” “a great defense” and a quarterback who “loves the game” and “brings everybody on board with him.” The Bears appear to check the final box there with Justin Fields’ teammates regularly complimenting his leadership style and work ethic, but it would be hard to define the management as “stable” after just two years nor the defense as “great.”
The Bears also don’t have much use for a veteran receiver like Hopkins who is likely going to want an expensive long-term contract. Chicago has added D.J. Moore and Chase Claypool in trades and drafted fourth-rounder Tyler Scott over the past seven months, giving them more firepower alongside Darnell Mooney. Is Hopkins more prolific than most of them when healthy? Sure, but it doesn’t fit the current build — especially with Mooney and Claypool vying for new contracts in 2024.
Here are three free agents who make more sense than Hopkins for the Bears:
Leonard Floyd, EDGE
While general manager Ryan Poles was not part of the regime who originally drafted Floyd in 2016, the Bears might feel the timing is right to reunite with the 30-year-old pass rusher after he was jettison from the Los Angeles Rams as a cost-cutting move just before the start of the new league year in March.
Floyd collected 29 sacks, 157 pressures and 184 tackles over the past three seasons with the Rams’ defense, and while having Aaron Donald in the middle helped contribute to his success, he was still able to find success when Donald wasn’t on the field — such as in the final four games of 2022 when Floyd registered 19 pressures and four sacks. The Bears should be drawn to that type of pass-rushing production, even after they signed DeMarcus Walker (seven sacks in 2022) and Rasheem Green (3.5 sacks) back in March.
Now, Floyd would be moving from a 3-4 outside linebacker role to a 4-3 defensive end if he signed with the Bears and is currently a little light (240 pounds) for the position, but it could be worth taking a chance on him with a one-year, incentive-laden contract.
George Fant, OT
The Bears already have their two starting offensive tackles with All-Rookie Braxton Jones back to cover Fields’ blindside and first-round rookie Darnell Wright specifically targeted in the draft to be a plug-and-play starter for them on the right side. The bigger concern is that both of their backup options — Larry Borom and Alex Leatherwood — each only have two years of NFL experience and have been inconsistent at best.
To limit the potential for a disaster, it could be wise for the Bears to sign Fant.
Fant just finished up a three-year stint with the New York Jets that saw him start 36 games and log more than 1,000 snaps at each the left and right tackle spots. While a knee injury derailed his 2022 season, he was one of the better pass-blocking tackles in the league in 2021 with just one sack and 18 pressures allowed over 15 starts. According to Pro Football Focus, he also allowed the sixth-lowest pressure rate (3.2%) and was the 12th-most-efficient pass blocking among all offensive tackles who played in 2021.
So long as the Bears are comfortable with Fant’s knee after last year’s injury, he could be well worth a one-year flier to give their group a veteran swing option and a mentor.
DeAndre Houston-Carson, S
Of all the 2023 Bears free agents who remain unsigned, Houston-Carson is easily the one who stands out most in terms of having a case to return to the team next season.
Houston-Carson — who just turned 30 in April — has been a high-quality special teams contributor for the Bears over the past few seasons, recording a second-most nine tackles behind cornerback Josh Blackwell in 2022 and forcing a fumble on a punt during Week 11’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. He was also one of just 25 players who PFF graded with a 90 or higher (90.1) for their special teams play last year.
Beyond his special teams value, Houston-Carson also proved he could be a reliable piece of the Bears secondary after stepping up when Eddie Jackson got hurt in 2022. After playing just 32 defensive snaps in the first 12 weeks, he played 381 snaps over his final six performances, starting in each one at either free safety or slot cornerback. He notched 37 tackles, two tackles for loss and his third career interception in that span.
While the Bears did just add Kendall Williamson in the seventh round of the 2023 draft, Houston-Carson offers both leadership and depth that would be beneficial to a secondary that is hoping to take a big step forward in 2023. He also would be the opposite of expensive, having played on a one-year, $1.77 million deal in 2022.